Quick 6 With Parrish Arturi, Fidelity Investments

In this feature on the Customer Experience Matters blog, we ask 6 questions of different customer experience leaders.

  • Name: Parrish Arturi
  • Title: SVP, Customer Experience
  • Company: Fidelity Investments
  • Length of time on the job: 1 year
  • Previous position: SVP, Personal and Workplace Investing Online Channels

1. What do you most like about your role?

Working across multiple areas to help the rest of our organization live up to our core value of “The Customer Is Always First”. Fidelity helps millions of people accomplish their goals and dreams, and having the ability to influence that in a scaled fashion is really powerful.

2. What are you most proud of accomplishing?

Getting the organization – from top to bottom – excited about transforming our customers experience and understanding that Customer Experience is not a project but something that needs to be in our corporate DNA.

3. What has been the most surprising challenge?

That at the end of the day this work is all about change management – it’s hard work getting multiple functional areas across different levels moving in the same direction. That said, it’s incredibly fulfilling when you hear others talking about customers and the difference they can make for associates and customers in their work.

4. How would you describe where your company is on its customer experience journey?

We actually have a great foundation from which to build, which includes having a legacy of innovation and committment to doing right by customers. We are mid-way in our journey – we have a solid strategy and program plan and are now in the midst of executing against it. There is a huge organizational focus to achieve our vision of providing the best customer experience in our industry, and it feels very real now that we have a number of tangible elements in place.

5. What initiatives are you currently most excited about?

I’m really excited about 2 things: First, is the work we’re doing around end-to-end process improvement, which includes everything from addressing chronic issues that customers and associates have told us about to diagnosing and making sure we are flawless in those moments that matter most to customers. Second is the internal and external communications work we’re doing to drive excitement with both associates and customers about the fact that we’ve heard their feedback, are turning that into action and are closing the loop with them.

6. What advice do you have for someone who is about to take on a similar role?

Take the time to create a gameplan and don’t get sucked into the latest issue of the day. People will assume that because your title or mandate is around customer experience that every problem is yours to solve. Having a gameplan for the elements of the business system that need to get established or improved, and being diligent about getting wins along the way, makes a huge difference.

Extra credit question: What would people be surprised to find out about you?

Before and after grad school I traveled the country with a friend in a beat up Jeep visiting most of the Major League (and some minor league) ballparks. And if you didn’t guess… I’m partial to Fenway.

Three Characteristics Of Transformational Leaders

I work with many companies aiming to become customer-centric organizations. These efforts are never easy, and they always require a multi-year journey. In order for an organization to sustain a change agenda over that span of time, the senior management team needs to actively lead the effort. What does that mean for those leaders?

In my work, I’ve observed that the most effective leaders demonstrate three key characteristics:

1) Communicate “Why”
The only way to get people to truly buy-in to change is for them to understand why it’s happening. Most executives tend to under-communicate. And when they do communicate, they often focus on “what” the company will be doing and “how” it will get done. Here are some ways that executives can improve their communications:

  • Develop a clear script about “why” the company is going through the change
  • Develop a clear script about “why” the change is good in the long run to your organization and its employees
  • Make sure that your direct reports fully understand why the change is going on and have their own scripts
  • Make sure that you regularly discuss the “why” in your ongoing communications

2) Model Desired Behaviors
Temkin Group’s 6th law of customer experience is simply: “You can’t fake it.” And we can all learn from New Jersey mayor Corey Booker’s mom, who once told the mayor: “What you do speaks so loudly that I can’t hear what you are saying.” Your organization can tell what’s truly important by observing your actions. If people see that you haven’t changed, then they won’t change either. Here are some ways that you can model new customer-centric behaviors:

  • Look for new ways to use customer feedback; consider regularly calling out to customers
  • Find ways to incorporate voice of the customer data/insights into your decision-making
  • Start asking customer-centric questions like: who is the target audience and how will this help them?
  • Make the change a top item on your meeting agendas; even above the normal operational items.
  • Make choices about what meetings you attend or decisions you make based on the signal it sends to the organization about your support for the change

3) Reinforce Change
It’s very easy for organizations to fall back into their regular, “comfortable” routines. So you need to make sure that you continuously reinforce the changed behaviors. Here are some of the things you can work on:

  • Hold your direct reports accountable for change in their organizations
  • Make “leading and supporting change” a key objective that you use to measure your direct reports
  • Publicly recognize and call out people in your organization that are acting consistently with where the company is heading
  • Don’t promote anyone in your organization, even high performers, if they are not proactively supporting the change
  • Embed the new direction in the hiring and new employee on-boarding process
  • Ask people in your organization what you could be doing to more effectively support the change
  • Develop personal goals every quarter for how you will reinforce the change

The bottom line: Transformation takes strong, committed leadership.

Since this is a longer post, I’ve made a version that you can download in .pdf form. Feel free to pass it around.

Quick 6 With Ingrid Lindberg, CIGNA

In this feature on the Customer Experience Matters blog, we ask 6 questions of different customer experience leaders.

  • Name: Ingrid Lindberg
  • Title: Customer Experience Officer
  • Company: CIGNA
  • Length of time on the job: 37 months
  • Previous position: CMO Ceridian Benefits Services

1. What do you most like about your role?

My personal drivers are altruism and hedonism. I want to help people and have a great time while doing so. This role, and this industry, allow me to really make a difference in our customers’ lives and my team helps me to have fun while doing the work.

2. What are you most proud of accomplishing?

We know that a customer’s understanding of their benefits is correlated to how much they trust us as their health service company. And we know that the more they trust us, the more likely they are to participate in their health and wellness with us. We also know that if people are willing to enroll in health and wellness programs with us, we can help them live healtier lives. So – something as simple as simplifying the language of health care directly correlates to helping our customers’ live healthier lives. That’s why I come to work every day.

3. What has been the most surprising challenge?

I thought the culture change would be really hard – but we have thousands of employees who simpy were waiting for someone to help lead the way to a better experience for our customers. And some of the technology stuff that I thought would be really easy, coming from financial services, is in fact, really hard – due to the complexity of the benefits designs we support.

4. How would you describe where your company is on its customer experience journey?

I always know it is working when we have other “experience” groups and projects popping up all over a company. We now have multiple projects who have “experience” as a part of their project title, and we have “Experience architects” embedded in many projects across the company. It is amazing to me that in just a little under three years, we’ve gone from almost always talking about the b2b part of our business to almost always talking about the b2b2c part of our business. People ask and push and really advocate for what is right for the customer. I can’t get answers out fast enough..

5. What initiatives are you currently most excited about?

We’re doing some really neat work with our own employees that will teach us even more about our customers. As long as I can continue to learn more – I’m excited.

6. What advice do you have for someone who is about to take on a similar role?

Make sure you have a ceo who is willing to be out in front of you, leading the charge. It is one of the most important things I look for when I’m taking a customer experience role. I’m extremely lucky that my ceo, david cordani, is as passionate about customers and customer experience as I am.

Extra credit question: What would people be surprised to learn about you?

I’m a total introvert.

Quick 6 With Karyn Furstman, Safeco Insurance

In this feature on the Customer Experience Matters blog, we ask 6 questions of different customer experience leaders.

  • Name: Karyn Furstman
  • Title: VP, Customer Experience
  • Company: Safeco Insurance, member of Liberty Mutual Group
  • Length of time on the job: 8 months
  • Previous position: SVP, Customer Experience, Washington Mutual

1. What do you most like about your role?

Building and creating the Customer Experience discipline in the organization as the first Customer Experience Officer for Safeco

2. What are you most proud of accomplishing?

In six months, creating a vision, strategy and role/engagement model for Customer Experience within the organization. Also building some foundational components of the strategy such as touchpoint mapping and implementing closed loop feedback pilots in multiple business lines.

3. What has been the most surprising challenge?

Changing the perception that Customer Experience is everyone in the organization’s responsibility and helping people understand what their role in this work is, whether front or back office employees.

4. How would you describe where your company is on its customer experience journey?

In the beginning of the journey and always reinforcing this is not about a program but rather a ‘way of life’ we are embarking on.

5. What initiatives are you currently most excited about?

Three areas of focus: experience design through prioritized moments of truth defined by customers; listening and fixing through closed loop feedback; and internal experience acculturation that supports our brand through consistent service behaviors across the organization and service recognition program.

6. What advice do you have for someone who is about to take on a similar role?

Define a vision and multi-year roadmap with early quick wins and showing value to the organization. Find executive leaders that can be your passionate advocates and help tell about their successes in Customer Experience wins.

Extra credit question: What would people be surprised to find out about you?

I really like spending time listening to customer calls and even complaints since I think you can gain great insight into what they are looking for to help turn them into being a promoter of your company in the long term.

Quick 6 With Graham Webster, Telefonica

In this feature on the Customer Experience Matters blog, we ask 6 questions of different customer experience leaders. In this edition: Graham Webster from Telefonica.

  • Name: Graham Webster
  • Title: Director of Customer Experience, Telefonica Europe & Telefonica S.A
  • Company: Telefonica S.A
  • Length of time on the job: 3 years
  • Previous position: Senior Vice President Strategy, Telefonica Europe

1) What do you most like about your role?

The ability to enhance people’s lives

2) What are you most proud of accomplishing?

Helping increase the customer focus across Telefonica businesses

3) What has been the most surprising challenge?

A quote by an internal person – “The brand and people are nothing to do with quality!”

4) How would you describe where your company is on its customer experience journey?

Progressing slowly but nevertheless progressing with senior management leadership

5) What initiatives are you currently most excited about?

Customer Feedback Systems dashboard trials

6) What advice do you have for someone who is about to take on a similar role?

Make sure the CEO is committed and not just in words but budget and actions when times get tough

Bonus question: What is one thing that people would be surprised to know about you?
I used to be a Civil Engineer designing bridges

Quick 6 With Steve Furman, Discover Financial

In this feature on the Customer Experience Matters blog, we ask 6 questions of different customer experience leaders.

  • Name: Steve A Furman (blog: Expedient MEANS)
  • Title: Director: E-Business Customer Experience Design & Social Media
  • Company: Discover Financial Services
  • Length of time on the job: 11 years
  • Previous position: Founder of Expedient MEANS, independent, interactive marketing firm

1) What do you most like about your role?

There is increasing focus on the customer experience inside our firm. As someone who works daily in this realm, it’s gratifying to see this transformation. Others are beginning to seek out assistance from myself and team members related to customer experience as they design products and go to market with digital campaigns.

2) What are you most proud of accomplishing?

No one thing. Instead I’d say it is a series of efforts stitched together over the last 11 years, evolving discover.com from a simple read only site to the interactive experience, including mobile and social, it is today. We are proud of our digital platform that was built expressly to offer a great customer experience with the capability of positively impacting business outcomes.

3) What has been the most surprising challenge?

Underestimating what it would take to shift the inertia from marketing via paper and servicing via phone to performing these functions in digital channels.

4) What initiatives are you currently most excited about?

We have worked hard to connect the E-Business and Customer Service teams on several levels. We are wrapping up an exciting project of re-engineering our Help Center with dynamic content and the ability for the field to publish as they see what’s coming into the call center. This was fueled by an analysis of data not previously looked at. New metrics are always energizing.

5) How would you describe where your company is on its customer experience journey?

We are moving into a phase of high activity and focus cross-functionally across the organization. Using the Passive, Willing, Engaged framework, I’d say we are entering the engaged phase with a bullet.

6) What advice do you have for someone who is about to take on a similar role?

Read the book, “The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels” and follow that advice. And, network as much as your time will allow both inside and outside your company.

Extra credit question: What would people be surprised to find out about you?

That I’m old.

(Editorial note: No he’s not!)

Customer Experience Reading List For Senior Execs

I get a lot of requests like: “my CEO is finally understanding the importance of customer experience, what should I give her to read.” Well, there’s a lot of great stuff around. But here’s a short list that I’d recommend from my blog:

  1. The 6 Laws Of Customer Experience. Every executive should understand these fundamental drivers of how organizations deliver customer experience.
  2. The Four Core Customer Experience Core Competencies. The path to customer-centricity requires mastering these four competencies: Purposeful Leadership, Compelling Brand Values, Employee Engagement, and Customer Connectedness. The report also has a self-assessment tool.
  3. Profiling Customer Experience Leaders. This report uses survey data to showcase the differences between customer experience leaders and customer experience laggards.
  4. Improve “Purposeful Leadership” In 2011. Gain a deeper understanding of the role that leadership plays in transforming customer experience.
  5. The 8 Signs Of Executive Commitment. Gauge the commitment level of the executive team with this simple diagnostic.
  6. The Customer Experience Checklist Manifesto. Use this checklist of 8 items to make sure that 2011 investments will improve customer experience.
  7. My Customer Experience Manifesto Continues. Describes how customer experience improvement requires systemic change like the quality movement of the 1980s.
  8. 8 Customer Experience Trends For 2011. Read about the key trends that are changing customer experience landscape in 2011 and beyond.

If you can get your senior executives to spend 60 minutes reading through this material, then they should have a much better understanding about what it takes to build a more customer-centric organization. That seems like a good investment of their time!

The bottom line: Executives need to get up-to-speed on customer experience.

Quick 6 With Jerry Adriano, Sprint

In this new feature on the Customer Experience Matters blog, we ask 6 questions of different customer experience leaders. The first up: Jerry Adriano from Sprint.

  • Name: Jerry Adriano
  • Title: VP, Customer Experience
  • Company: Sprint Nextel
  • Length of time on the job: 4 years
  • Previous position: VP, Integration

1) What do you most like about your role?

The opportunity to engage with groups and influence across the entire enterprise while staying engaged with the feedback our customers give us every day. It’s rewarding to see how the improvements we’re making in products, pricing and policies are changing the customer experience in a positive way.

2) What are you most proud of accomplishing?

As a result of all employees rallying around customer experience as a top priority, Sprint has realized dramatic improvements across all touch points during the past three years. These kinds of improvements led to Sprint being recognized earlier this year for the most improvement of any company across all industries during the past two years by the American Customer Satisfaction Index.

3) What has been the most surprising challenge?

The impact of perceptual issues and the lag time between making improvements and seeing the change in customer metrics.

4) How would you describe where your company is on its customer experience journey?

We started in a position where we lagged our competitors and prioritized pain points in order to close the gaps. Our focus was on meeting expectations and satisfying our customers. We are now in the midst of the most challenging part of the journey which is moving from a satisfaction focus to a loyalty focus where we will differentiate the experience for targeted segments of customers. The ultimate goal of the journey is to move these targeted segments to be advocates of Sprint.

5) What initiatives are you currently most excited about?

I am excited about identifying and implementing actions that will allow us to further differentiate the experience of being a Sprint customer. Two areas that have great potential are improving the device experience and optimizing cross-channel transactions and interactions. Device experience includes setting customer expectations, educating customers and assisting customers with device issues. Optimizing cross-channel transactions includes understanding how customers are interacting across channels so we can more purposefully design and improve that experience.

6) What advice do you have for someone who is about to take on a similar role?

Start with the understanding that it’s a journey, so develop a multi-year plan that allows you to prioritize and register some early wins, gain executive support, evangelize at all levels, identify a way to engage all employees in the customer experience improvement and don’t be shy about being the voice of the customer.

What If Customer Experience Has No ROI? (Part 2)

Here’s the 2nd installment of What If Customer Experience Has No ROI? …

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Who cares about ROI anyway?

Most executives care about the ROI of just about everything they invest their time and/or money on. But they are only partially satisfied with the results of generic, industry-level research findings. They want to know about the specific ROI for their customer experience efforts.

If customer executive leaders don’t address the ROI needs of key stakeholders, then they will find it difficult to gain the full commitment of those executives. To understand the interplay between ROI and commitment, here’s a very simple model outlining five levels of executive commitment:

  1. Opposers don’t believe in customer experience. These executives generally won’t support customer experience efforts no matter what ROI data they see, but can become passives when they see strong support from their peers.
  2. Passives don’t really care about customer experience. These executives are willing to become toe-dippers if they see strong support from their peers.
  3. Toe-dippers are willing to offer some time and resources for customer experience. These executives will increase their participation and can even become supporters if they see strong ROI.
  4. Supporters are willing to give their resources to customer experience efforts and encourage their peers to do the same because they understand the ROI of these efforts. They use ROI results to strengthen their discussions across the company.
  5. Advocates fight any battle to make sure that customer experience efforts are funded. They generally understand the impact that customer experience has to the long-term competitiveness of the company without any project-based ROI data.

What impact does ROI have on the journey?

Hopefully I’ve made the case that well-placed customer experience improvements drive loyalty and deliver a very positive ROI and that an understanding of this dynamic can increase executive commitment. All of this is just a preamble to what’s really important: how it affects your customer experience journey.

To look at this dynamic, I mapped the aggregate level of commitment of the executive team against the ambition of customer experience transformation efforts. This step identified three separate areas.

The best place to be is in an area I call the “Zone of Success” where the ambitions of the program are aligned with the level of commitment of the executive team. As long as customer experience programs stay in this range, they have a great opportunity to succeed.

In some cases, the level executive commitment can outstrip the pace of the customer experience program. This situation, called the “Land Of Executive Frustration,” can be a problem for customer experience leaders. The executive team wants to recognize all of the great ROI faster than it can be achieved. In these cases, it’s important to establish a multi-year roadmap that shows some incremental ROI results over time. It’s even possible to accelerate your efforts a bit to wind up in the “Zone of Success.”

Unfortunately, many efforts wind up in the “Field Of Impossible Dreams.” In these situations, there’s not enough executive commitment to support the desired change. If you’re leading a customer experience effort that has ambitions in this area, then you need to raise the commitment level of the executives with a solid ROI model; or go look for another job.

The bottom line: Find a path to your zone of success.

Customer Experience Leaders Make A Difference

Gartner and 1to1 Media recently announced their 2010 CRM Excellence Awards. The two winners for customer experience were Sprint and CIGNA — congratulations to both organizations!

My take: These winners are not a surprise. I highlighted Sprint as one of the companies that had improved the most in Forrester’s 2010 Customer Experience Index. Both firms are on very aggressive customer experience journeys being led by two of the strongest customer experience executives in the industry — Jerry Adriano (Sprint) and Ingrid Lindberg (CIGNA).

Customer experience transformation isn’t easy; it takes a lot more than a few superficial changes. As I’ve highlighted in recent research, companies that want to build customer experience differentiation need to master 4 competencies: Purposeful Leadership, Compelling Brand Values, Employee Engagement, and Customer Connectedness. That’s why these efforts require strong leaders like Adriano and Lindberg.

To understand the impact of leadership, I took another look at the data from our May 2010 survey of large North American companies. For this analysis, I compared the companies that had a senior executive in charge of customer experience for at east 6 months with all of the other firms in the survey. Here are the major obstacles identified by each group:

What jumps out from this data is that companies without a senior executive in charge of customer experience suffer from a lack a clear strategy. There’s a 32 percentage point gap between the two groups in that area.

Here are some of other things that I found interesting:

  • All companies suffer from competing priorities
  • Companies without customer experience leaders are 10+ percentage points more likely to run into several problems associated with starting their journey:
    • Lack of a clear strategy
    • Lack of incentives and rewards
    • Wrong people or organizations leading the effort
    • Lack of important skills
  • Companies with customer experience leaders run into more problems as they start to make changes:
    • Limited funding
    • Conflict across organizations

The bottom line: Customer experience takes leadership

Words Of Wisdom On July 4th

Since it’s the 4th of July, I want to wish everyone who is celebrating the holiday a…

Happy Independence Day!!!

In honor of the holiday, I decided to repeat my post from last year that tapped into insights from a couple of our founding fathers.

Let’s start with a quote from John Hancock:

There’s only so many priorities that you can fund. What you choose to target, you need to win.

Here’s a quote from Samuel Adams:

Mankind are governed more by their feelings than by reason

My take: John Hancock points to an important concept — focus — which is something I spoke about in a post about Mayor Booker from Newark, NJ and in a post called Leadership Lesson: Less Is Better.

Samuel Adams’ quote talks about the need for empathy, which is critical when dealing with customers and employees. This quote from the Cleveland Clinic captures the essence of how to think about your customer interactions: “The patient is not only an illness, he has a soul.”

When it comes to employees, this is a clear call for companies to focus on their corporate culture, which is why the first management imperative listed in my free eBook is “Invest In Culture As A Corporate Asset.”

The bottom line: Enjoy your 4th of July!

The Current State Of Customer Experience

We just published a new Temkin Group Insight Report, The Current State Of Customer ExperienceThis report, which is based on a survey of 140+ large North American companies, provides insights into the progress that companies are making on their customer experience journeys.

It looks at topics like the adoption of voice of the customer (VoC) programs and Net Promoter Scores, the use of social media activities, and the goals, obstacles, and ambitions for customer experience. Here’s the executive summary:

Using the Temkin Group customer experience competency model, we found that only 3% of firms were “Customer-Centric Organizations” while 33% of firms were “Customer-Oblivious Organizations.” While companies rated highest in the area of Purposeful Leadership, only 16% received “very good” ratings in that competency area. This data highlights that companies are still in very early stages of customer experience maturity. We expect the results to improve over time; as 65% of respondents want to be customer experience leaders within three years.

Download report for $195

The report has 20 figures; with lots of data. Here are some interesting factoids:

  • Only 16% think they always or almost always delight customers getting customer service online.
  • 95% want to improve profitability, but only 43% want to improve the work environment for employees.
  • 37% have had a customer experience leader for at least 12 months
  • 71% identified “other competing priorities” as a significant obstacle to their customer experience efforts; the most commonly selected of the 11 obstacles we asked about.
  • 57% have a formalized voice of the customer (VoC) program
  • 45% that have a formalized VoC program tie compensation to customer feedback scores; one of the 15 VoC activities we asked about.
  • 32% have been using Net Promoter Score (NPS) for at least 12 months; 19% are not familiar with NPS
  • 31% analyze conversations in social media sites like Facebook and Twitter; the most commonly used of 11 social media activities we asked about.
  • The customer experience competency assessment showed a wide range of results across the 20 questions:
    • Highest scoring: Senior executives regularly communicate that customer experience is one of the company’s key strategies
    • Lowest scoring: Marketing does as much brand marketing inside the company as it does outside the company

In addition to the data insights, the report has a number of self-assessment tools that you can use to compare your efforts to the 140+ respondents:

  • In the Temkin Group Insight Report, The Four Customer Experience Core Competencies (free download), we introduced an assessment tool for our competency model. This report allows you to compare your results with 140+ other companies.
  • A tool for gauging your voice of the customer (VoC) activities
  • A tool for gauging your social media activities

Download report for $195

The bottom line: Customer experience management is still immature

Saks CEO Shares His Leadership Approach

I read an interesting interview with Stephen Sadove, chairman and chief executive of Saks, who discussed his approach to management. Here’s an excerpt:

I have a very simple model to run a company. It starts with leadership at the top, which drives a culture. Culture drives innovation and whatever else you’re trying to drive within a company — innovation, execution, whatever it’s going to be. And that then drives results.

My take: Sadove’s approach is spot-on; and can be simplified to:

Leadership => Culture => Operational effectiveness => Business results

Sadove seems to understand what many executives lost sight of over the past decade, which is well stated by Jack Welch: “On the face of it, shareholder value is the dumbest idea in the world. Shareholder value is a result, not a strategy.” Rather than focusing on profits, he recognizes that profits are the outcome of a chain of events that starts with good leadership.

Sadove’s comments also line up nicely with several of the 6 New Management Imperatives that I outlined last year:

  1. Invest in culture as a corporate asset
  2. Make listening an enterprisewide skill
  3. Turn innovation into a continuous process
  4. Provide a clear and compelling purpose
  5. Extend and enhance the digital fabric
  6. Practice good social citizenship

The bottom line: Execs that want results need to focus more on people

The Four Customer Experience Core Competencies

Go to the updated version of this report


Temkin Group is happy to release this new Insight Report, The Four Customer Experience Core Competencies, which you can download for free.

This report describes the four competencies that companies need to master in order to build and sustain customer experience success.

Here’s the executive summary of the report:

Organizations that want to become customer experience leaders need to master four customer experience competencies: Purposeful Leadership, Employee Engagement, Compelling Brand Values, and Customer Connectedness. Gauge how close your company is to being a Customer-Centric Organization using Temkin Group’s competency model to identify strengths and weaknesses.

I urge you to read this report, share it with others in your organization, and take the competency assessment which is shown in figure 3.

The bottom line: Start building your customer experience competencies

Undercover Boss Showcases Executive Problems

Senior executives seem to be lining up to participate in the CBS show Undercover Boss.

So far, they’ve had Larry O’Donnell, President and C.O.O. of Waste Management, Joseph M. DePinto, President and C.E.O. of 7-Eleven, Coby G. Brooks, President and C.E.O. of Hooters, Dave Rife, Owner/Executive Board Member of White Castle, William C. Carstanjen, C.O.O. of Churchill Downs, Michael G. Rubin, Chairman, President and CEO of GSI Commerce, Joel Manby, President and CEO of Herschend Family Entertainment, Rick L. Arquilla, President and COO of Roto-Rooter, and Chris McCann, President and COO of 1-800-Flowers.

During each episode, a senior executive anonymously works in some area of the company. The execs end up uncovering things they didn’t know about how their company operates and how their decisions impact the business. One article, for instance, lists management lessons from the 7-Eleven episode that includes continuous improvement is key and employees can inspire management.

My take: Having CxOs spend time with employees for the sake of a TV show is no way for a senior exec to find out what’s going on in his/her organization. If an executive gets out of touch with employees and the core operations of the company, then they can’t possibly make good decisions for the business.

I often refer to this quote by Jack Welch:

Deal with the world as it is, not how you’d like it to be

The information that flows to senior execs is heavily filtered by layers of management.  That’s why all senior executive should create routines where they stay in synch with what’s going on deep in their company; even if you need to produce your own undercover episodes.

The bottom line: Figure out how to see the world as it is